American Enterprise Institute

Logo of American Enterprise Institute. (link)



Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2016):

Revenue: $60,020,287
Expenses: $46,953,435
Assets: $279,414,192




Robert Doar


Right-of-center think tank

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The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a right-of-center think tank that promotes free markets and an active foreign policy role for the United States. AEI is considered one of the premier sources of neoconservative thought in the United States. AEI is the primary right-leaning rival to the Heritage Foundation, though AEI is generally considered more scholarly and Heritage more political. 1

AEI has been one of the most influential conservative think tanks in the U.S., particularly during Republican presidential administrations. However, AEI’s role under President Donald Trump was relatively diminished. AEI’s writers held mixed opinions on President Trump until they uniformly condemned him after contesting the results of the 2020 election. 2

Since its inception, AEI has claimed a motto that “a competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society.” As such, scholars are free to write their own opinions based on research to help promote civil discourse. As such, unlike at other think tanks that may follow a corporate “line,” many papers may be written on the same subject, but all with varying opinions on both left- and right-leaning positions. 3

AEI employs almost 200 scholars who write articles and conduct research on political matters, including economic policy, poverty studies, and foreign policy. AEI’s current fellows include former AEI president Arthur Brooks, Ross Douthat, Charles Murray, and Christina Hoff Sommers. 4

AEI is governed by a board of 28 trustees, which as of March 2021, includes representatives from American Express, Dell, State Farm Insurance, and other major corporations. 5


Early Years

In 1938, a group of New York businessmen founded the American Enterprise Association (AEA) to promote free market economic policies in response to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In 1943, the organization moved to Washington, D.C., where it began to distribute legislative analyses to members of Congress. 6 Few records of the AEA’s early research products remain. 78

In 1962, AEA was renamed to the American Enterprise Institute. In the 1960s and 1970s, AEI expanded its political power by recruiting numerous high-profile fellows, including President Gerald Ford and much of his cabinet. as well as future-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. 9 AEI fellows provided major policy strategy for the presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), a major ideological figure in early modern conservatism. 10 AEI also attracted numerous prominent economists for its research, including Nobel Prize winner Milton Freidman, who would periodically work for the AEI until 1981. 11

Rise of “Neoconservatism”

In the late 1970s and 80s, AEI became known as the center of “neoconservatism,” an ideology born out of supporters of the New Deal who advocated for a more aggressive foreign policy than the standard left-of-center policies of the Democratic Party. Irving Kristol, who was often considered the “godfather” of neoconservatism, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, one of the future chief foreign policy architects of President Ronald Reagan’s administration, both joined AEI. 12

In the 1990s, AEI’s staff moved closer to the conservative wing of the Republican Party, with hires including future-Vice President Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney, Charles Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D’Souza, and John Bolton. 13

George W. Bush Administration

In the 2000s, AEI worked closely with the administration of President George W. Bush due to its neoconservative scholars and connection with Vice President Dick Cheney. More than 20 AEI scholars would work in the White House under President Bush, and the President spoke at an AEI conference in 2007. 14

Arthur Brooks Era

From 2008 to 2019, Arthur Brooks served as president of AEI. Brooks’s term coincided significantly with the presidency of Democratic President Barack Obama, and many AEI scholars spent the Obama administration criticizing his policies concerning the economy and entitlements. In a 2012 op-ed, Brooks accused President Obama of being captured by “conventional progressive policy dogma,”15 though he later appeared on a congenial policy panel with the president to discuss poverty relief. 16

In 2014, AEI hosted the Dalai Lama for a week. In addition to holding numerous panels on the nature of happiness, Brooks and the Dalai Lama would co-write op-eds for the Washington Post and New York Times. 17

In 2018, Politico credited Brooks with increasing the academic reputation of AEI while distancing the organization from political administration work, particularly with President Donald Trump. 18

In March 2018, Brooks announced his intent to resign from AEI citing his personal belief that “social enterprises generally thrive best when chief executives don’t stay much longer than a decade”19 and citing a desire for “freedom from the consuming responsibilities of that job, to have time for more spiritual pursuits.” 20

In July 2019, Robert Doar became president of AEI. 21

Trump Administration

The views of the American Enterprise Institute’s fellows towards President Donald Trump were generally mixed throughout most of his presidency, in keeping with the organization’s general views favoring academic freedom for its scholars.

In January 2021, AEI fellow Matthew Continetti summarized his perspective:22

Donald Trump will be remembered as the first president to be impeached twice. He fed the myth that the election was stolen, summoned his supporters to Washington to protest the certification of the Electoral College vote, told them that only through strength could they take back their country, and stood by as they stormed the U.S. Capitol and interfered in the operation of constitutional government… If Donald Trump had followed the example of his predecessors and conceded power graciously and peacefully, he would have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential populist leader.

In February 2019, AEI fellow Mackenzie Eaglen criticized President Trump for overstepping executive bounds by declaring a state of emergency to finance the construction of a border wall. 23

In December 2020, AEI fellow Timothy Carney wrote an article condemning conspiracy theories claiming that President Trump won the election. Carney accused Trump of demanding loyalty above ethics from his subordinates, and of pursuing policies that benefit his base of supporters above the United States in general. 24

AEI fellow Marc Thiessen wrote his annual list of President Trump’s ten best and worst actions of the year, where Thiessen praised the president for Operation Warp Speed and the CARES Act, but condemned President Trump for refusing to publicly accept the election results. 2526

Employee Political Contributions

From 1990 to 2020, employees of the American Enterprise Institute donated $365,788 to political candidates and committees. With the exceptions of the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, donations overwhelmingly went to Republicans. In the 2020 election cycle, AEI employees donated $20,690, with 85% going to Republicans. Then-President Donald Trump received $1,188, and President Joe Biden received $1,434. 27

Organizational Finances


In 2019, AEI spent $57,228,170. Its largest expenditure was salaries, which accounted for almost $32 million. AEI spent almost $8 million on conferences, including over $2 million paid to Sea Island Acquisition for its annual AEI World Forum in Sea Island, Georgia. 28


In 2019, the American Enterprise Institute raised $51,439,296 in revenue, with $46,622,409 coming from grants. 29

In 2014, AEI received a $20 million grant from Daniel D’Aniello, one of three billionaire co-founders of the Carlyle Group. At the time, D’Aniello was the vice chair of the AEI board of trustees;30 as of 2021, he is chairman of the board. 31

From 2007 to 2020, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave about $7.9 million to AEI. 32

From 2003 to 2010, AEI’s largest funder was Donors Trust, the conservative/libertarian provider of donor-advised funds, which donated $86.7 million. 33


Charles Murray

In 1990, Harvard University sociologist Charles Murray became a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In 1994, Murray and now-deceased co-author Richard Herrnstein published The Bell Curve, an exploration of human intelligence which became one of the most controversial books in the modern United States. The work argued that intelligence is highly heritable and has a significant genetic component, with the most controversial chapter asserting a link between race and genetic intelligence. Though Murray’s work has many defenders, left-wing organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled Murray a “white nationalist,”34 a characterization Murray strongly refutes. 35

Even as left-progressive radicals deplatformed Murray numerous institutions and violent attacked him at Middlebury College, Murray has remained a fellow at AEI. In 2009, AEI gave Murray the Irving Kristol Award for exemplary work. 36 In 2018, Murray became an emeritus scholar at AEI. 37

Position on Climate Change

AEI has been accused of promoting climate change “denial,” particularly at the behest of large corporate donors. From 1998 to2016, AEI received $4.4 million from ExxonMobil. AEI’s Benjamin Zycher defended AEI by claiming that its writers’ views are in line with the scientific consensus on climate change (albeit opposed to left-wing political policies regarding climate change). He also pointed to his record of both defending and attacking ExxonMobil, and he demonstrated that the company has funded climate research groups on both sides of the political aisle. 38

In 2018, AEI hosted a panel with the environmentalist-aligned Niskanen Center and other right-of-center think tanks on the culpability of ExxonMobil regarding numerous lawsuits claiming the company purposefully hid the risks of climate change from the public. The panel concluded that ExxonMobil was not legally culpable. 39

Climate Science Grant

In 2007, AEI launched a grant program which offered scientists $10,000 to critique the findings of a major study written by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Media outlets like CNN criticized AEI for “bribing” scientists to deny climate change, potentially at the behest of ExxonMobil. AEI countered that offering grant money for scientific critiques was standard practice, and that they wanted to ensure that the IPCC’s research was conducted properly. 40

Resignation of David Frum

In 2010, nominally conservative pundit and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum unexpectedly left AEI. Media outlets like CBS speculated that Frum had been pushed out of the organization due to a blog post Frum wrote which criticized the Republican Party for being unwilling to concede to Democratic demands over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Frum later stated that AEI president Arthur Brooks liked the article, but that AEI donors had pressured Brooks to ask for Frum’s resignation. Brooks offered Frum part-time work, but Frum declined. 41

AEI denied Frum’s claims; insiders told the Daily Beast that AEI president Arthur Brooks had attempted to elicit more work for Frum’s allegedly six-figure salary. Critics of Frum noted that other AEI scholars, most notably Norman Ornstein, were more closely aligned with Democrats and Democratic policies than Frum had been. 42

Funding from the Taiwanese Government

In June 2013, left-wing magazine The Nation questioned AEI’s objectivity, reporting that in 2009, AEI had received a $550,000 donation from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), the unofficial embassy of the government of Taiwan in the United States. Over the following years, AEI published numerous articles advocating for the U.S. government to make weapons sales and trade agreements with Taiwan. When questioned, TECRO claimed that its donation was unrelated to AEI’s advocacy, and that it had acted as an intermediary to fund a joint-research program by AEI and Taiwan’s Institute of International Relations of the National Chengchi University. 43


  1. Judis, John B. “The Credible Think Tank is dead.” New Republic. September 15, 2017. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  2. “American Enterprise Institute.” Militarist Monitor. July 13, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  3. “AEI’s Organization and Purposes,” American Enterprise Institute. Accessed March 26, 2021.
  4. “Our Scholars.” American Enterprise Institute. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  5. “Board of Trustees.” American Enterprise Institute. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  6. “History of AEI.” American Enterprise Institute. July 8, 2009. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  7. Bowman, Karyl. “Milton Freidman and AEI.” American Enterprise Institute. July 31, 2012. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  8. Judis, John B. “The Credible Think Tank is dead.” New Republic. September 15, 2017. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  9. “History of AEI.” American Enterprise Institute. July 8, 2009. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  10. Judis, John B. “The Credible Think Tank is dead.” New Republic. September 15, 2017. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  11. Bowman, Karyl. “Milton Freidman and AEI.” American Enterprise Institute. July 31, 2012. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  12. “In the tank: the intellectual decline of AEI.” The Free Library. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  13. “History of AEI.” American Enterprise Institute. July 8, 2009. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  14. “President Bush Discusses Progress in Afghanistan, Global War on Terror.” The White House. February 15, 2007. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  15. Brooks, Arthur C. “Arthur Brooks: How Obama Neglects the Poor.” Wall Street Journal. July 31, 2013. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  16. Castle, Tyler. “4 Takeaways from Pre. Obama’s Conversation with Arthur Brooks and Robert Putnam.” Initiative on Faith and Public Service. May 13, 2015. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  17. “His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” AEI. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  18. Harnik, Andrew. “’Americans are Being Held Hostage and Terrorized by the Fringes.” Politico. May 13, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  19. Brooks, Arthur  C. “Reflections on a Decade of Leading a Think Tank.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, March 14, 2018.
  20. Brooks, Arthur C. “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think.” The Atlantic. July 2019. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  21. “AEI Welcomes New President And Morgridge Scholar, Robert Doar.” State Policy Network. July 22, 2019. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  22. Prasad, Ritu. “US historians on what Donald Trump’s legacy will be.” BBC. January 19, 2021. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  23. Black, Eric. “Even the American Enterprise Institute thinks Trump is overstepping his authority with an emergency declaration for the wall.” Minn Post. February 15, 2019. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  24. Carney, Timothy P. “This is your soul on Trump.” American Enterprise Institute. December 15, 2020. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  25. Thiessen, Marc A. “The 10 worst things Trump did in 2020.” American Enterprise Institute. December 30, 2021. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  26. Thiessen, Marc A. “The 10 best things Trump did in 2020.” American Enterprise Institute. January 1, 2021. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  27. “American Enterprise Institute.” Open Secrets. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  28. “American Enterprise Institute Form 990.” ProPublica. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  29. “American Enterprise Institute Form 990.” ProPublica. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  30. “American Enterprise Institute Received $20 Million Gift.” Philanthropy News Digest. February 26, 2014. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  31. “Board of Trustees.” American Enterprise Institute. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  32. “Committed Grants Database: American Enterprise Institute.” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  33. Brulle, Robert J. “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organization.” Drexel University. January 25, 2013. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  34. “Charles Murray.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  35. Murray, Charles. “Charles Murray’s SPLC Page as Edited by Charles Murray.” American Enterprise Institute, March 24, 2017.
  36. DeMuth, Christopher. “Irving Kristol Award and Lecture for 2009.” American Enterprise Institute. March 11, 2009. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  37. “Controversial Social Scientist Charles Murray.” NPR. January 7, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  38. Zycher, Benjamin. “Am I or am I not a tool of ExxonMobil?” American Enterprise Institute. July 12, 2017. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  39. Lewis Jr., Marlo. “What Exxon Kew: AEI Panel on Recent Climate Change Litigation.” Competitive Enterprise Institute. April 22, 2018. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  40. Hargreaves, Steve. “Exxon linked to climate change payout.” CNN. February 5, 2007. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  41. Montopoli, Brian. “GOP Commentator David Frum Loses Job After Criticizing Party.” CBS News. March 25, 2010. Accessed March 21, 2021.
  42. Varadarajan, Tunku. “Inside David Frum’s Bitter Exit.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, March 26, 2010.
  43. Clifton, Eli. “The Secret Foreign Donor Behind the American Enterprise Institute.” The Nation. June 25, 2013. Accessed March 21, 2021.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: July 1, 1944

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2016 Jun Form 990 $60,020,287 $46,953,435 $279,414,192 $12,838,070 Y $58,561,514 $948,679 $824,088 $2,678,165 PDF
    2015 Jun Form 990 $84,616,388 $38,611,315 $272,670,682 $6,565,848 Y $80,950,119 $736,631 $2,242,097 $3,037,353 PDF
    2014 Jun Form 990 $64,011,505 $35,435,906 $232,057,639 $9,654,484 Y $62,435,926 $1,065,665 $2,058,758 $2,363,709 PDF
    2013 Jun Form 990 $45,780,708 $31,797,938 $199,952,163 $22,131,731 Y $43,305,253 $936,305 $116,202 $2,602,316 PDF
    2012 Jun Form 990 $38,831,796 $32,235,853 $154,989,249 $4,435,862 Y $36,460,964 $813,206 $1,025,989 $3,372,626 PDF
    2011 Jun Form 990 $34,577,193 $29,030,559 $153,771,226 $3,674,599 Y $31,138,309 $733,606 $1,160,800 $3,202,536 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    American Enterprise Institute

    WASHINGTON, DC 20036-2103